Like anyone who works in the enterprise social computing space, Thomas Vander Wal's post about SharePoint was essential reading. He concludes:
"What is clear out of all of this is SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs. It is also very clear Microsoft’s marketing is to be commended for seeding the enterprise world of the value of social software platform in the enterprise and the real value it can bring. Ironically, or maybe true to form, Microsoft’s product does not live up to their marketing, but it has helped to greatly enhance the marketplace for products that actually do live up to the hype and deliver even more value."However, the responses have been just as interesting, like Mike Gotta, Michael Sampson, Oliver Marks, Dion Hinchcliffe, and Todd Stephens (Sharepoint versus the World, Sharepoint Bites Back and Another Sharepoint Myth Debunked).
And what about me? What do I think?
I have to say that there is certainly a ring of truth about Vander Wal's analysis, but... I'm not entirely convinced about the basis of his arguments.
The test for Enterprise 2.0 isn't cost or a list features, although we do expect it to be built using Web technologies and ease of use is important. However, even in those cases Web-based doesn't just mean Web browser based and I would claim 'ease of use' is in the eye of the beholder. No, the measure of SharePoint's Enterprise 2.0 worthiness is in how it is used and how users are allowed to use it. And there is where, from looking at the SharePoint product suite and my experiences in the field, that I have a problem with SharePoint.
Out of the box, there are trade offs in SharePoint that make it a passable document-collaboration tool, but in doing this it is structured in such a way that it also silos and constrains users and information. Beyond document-collaboration, other potentially interesting portal features, like the Business Data Catalogue, require the intervention of administrators and visionary IT management. So its a user-driven environment only within certain limits.
I'm also not convinced that SharePoint has heralded the era of Enterprise 2.0. What is has done is provided a low barrier of entry to a Collaboration capability that has been lacking in the majority of organisations and in that respect it has opened the door to Intranet 2.0, but in most cases SharePoint is deployed in a way that is very far removed from Enterprise 2.0. At this point we do start to find that the complexity in the SharePoint suite and its technical and information architecture become a barrier to using it as a platform for Enterprise 2.0 in the future - and its here Vander Wal's arguments start to play out. Unfortunately IT professionals only have themselves to blame if they deploy SharePoint haphazardly and get bitten by it later!
Still, there are off the shelf options that can help enrich SharePoint as a social computing tool - ReadWriteWeb covered a few of them last year - but even with these in place you will only have affected one part of your overall information workplace. That is, you've added some social features to your intranet (and they might have an impact), but you haven't really evolved into Enterprise 2.0.
So, being pragmatic, what can we do about SharePoint to make it as Enterprise 2.0 friendly as possible?
- Implement strong foundations for Enterprise 2.0'ness - Plan your infrastructure well and implement the right governance model so you have a platform where open information access is encouraged ('access' means you can also find information and know about it, not just have the rights to see it) and agile development practices can be used to help quickly meet new business requirements, but all under controlled conditions (because a wild SharePoint isn't good for anyone);
- Have a realistic budget - Accept the fact that you will need some additional Webparts and third-party extensions to achieve the first goal - and budget for it from the beginning; and
- Remember the big picture - In the process of doing all this, don't forget to also focus on people, process and content and not just the technology.
And if all this sound too hard, well perhaps SharePoint isn't the right choice for your organisation after all.